Scientists in Manhattan who specialize in natural products research are exploring whether marijuana might be an effective treatment for Parkinson’s disease’s most debilitating symptoms — including pain — even as the leading advocacy group for patients cautions against potential side effects.

Emerging research at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine suggests marijuana as a viable alternative or addition to current treatments for Parkinson’s, an incurable and progressive movement disorder marked by the death of dopamine-producing nerve cells in the brain. Dopamine is a key biochemical — a neurotransmitter — involved in movement.

“Marijuana is a plant that is rich in compounds,” said Zvi Loewy, professor and chairman of pharmaceutical and biomedical sciences at the medical college. He said he has formed a team of scientific experts to study marijuana as a possible therapeutic to also address such Parkinson’s-related symptoms as depression, insomnia and pain.

Loewy’s team of experts includes scientists who specialize in molecular biology, pharmacy and chemistry. None, however, are neuroscientists or physicians who specialize in Parkinson’s disease. Such experts will be invited to participate in the next phase of his research, Loewy said Wednesday.

His marijuana research comes on the heels of the New York State Department of Health’s approval last month to add chronic pain to the list of qualifying disorders for therapeutic cannabis. Parkinson’s disease is not on the state’s list of 11 qualifying medical conditions.

Loewy said serious, extensive medical marijuana research had not been pursued in the past. He said a recent review of studies that he and his team published in the journal Parkinson’s Disease, suggests that people with Parkinson’s can benefit from marijuana. “The fact that it is more accepted and talked about now gives us the encouragement that we will not be climbing an uphill battle,” he said.

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Pain, Loewy added, affects nearly 50 percent of patients with Parkinson’s, but pain medications have significant drawbacks.

“Marijuana has been found to relieve pain in other diseases and should be studied in Parkinson’s,” he said.

None of the centers of Parkinson’s treatment excellence, designated by the National Parkinson Foundation — including the one at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, a division of the Northwell Health system — recommend medical marijuana to patients.

The Medical Society of the State of New York, which has headquarters in Westbury, has no position statement on medical marijuana for any condition, officials said Wednesday.

Dr. James Beck, vice president of scientific affairs at the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, said the disorder is extraordinarily complex and the pain that many people with Parkinson’s experience can be caused by not having enough of the medication that replaces the dopamine that brain cells can no longer produce.

Beck described some pain in Parkinson’s as severe cramping, especially in the feet, like a Charley horse. He also cited powerful placebo effects reported by patients who take alternative treatments.

“Our position is not to encourage people to take medical marijuana,” Beck said. “Our position is to encourage them to work with their health care providers.”

Despite the growing popularity of medical marijuana on internet forums frequented by Parkinson’s patients, studies have confirmed that marijuana can interfere with the brain’s so-called executive functions. These functions can include the ability to follow the steps in a recipe or carrying out other simple routines, such as the steps involved in paying bills, thought processes that most healthy people take for granted, Beck said.

“Marijuana also can cause problems with balance and coordination and leave them foggy. These are things that people with Parkinson’s already have trouble with,” he said.

Although the National Parkinson Foundation has concerns about medical marijuana, the Michael J. Fox Foundation joined a group of 13 patient advocacy organizations in July calling for more medical cannabis research.

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The group sent a letter to U.S. House and Senate members urging them to approve the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act, which would increase medical marijuana research.